Property Let by Private Landlords Often Not Looked After Properly

Why do some people dislike private landlords so much and are their complaints valid?

Back in the 1970s, in the last days of rent control and tenant lifetime security of tenure, landlords akin to Peter Rachman were still flourishing.

These guys didn’t worry about legal niceties to get their property back. They just used threats, sent the tough boys in and used lots of clever lawyers to make sure they were always one step ahead of the law and never got locked up.

And so landlords, in general, in those days tended to get a bad press.

But in the face of rent controls and as a result of it being very hard to recover a property if a tenant did not want to move, lots of decent landlords quit the business – which is why the proportion of property in the private rented sector had fallen to about 8% of all housing stock by the late 1980s. (It was about 50% post WW2.)

Lack of Accommodation

The lack of rented accommodation available outside the social housing sector made demand even greater and encouraged even more Rachmans to come forward, safe in the knowledge that their particular brand of “persuasive techniques” would always allow them to recover their properties.

The shortage of available accommodation in the private rented sector was of course, bad for labour mobility and was a reason why rent controls were eventually withdrawn and why the law was later changed so landlords, who let under the new AST, could always get their property back, provided they gave due notice under the law.

And so post 1988, the sector has flourished again and in many areas it now forms about a quarter of the total housing stock.

But as it grows in importance, there are some people who are not happy with landlords and what they do. One issue they have – and one on which I am very much in agreement – is that many landlords are guilty of not looking after their properties properly.

Predicting Ownership

A housing manager I know who looks after a mixed estate showed me how she could predict the tenure type just by walking by outside.

In this estate a lot of the former social housing had been bought under Margaret Thatcher’s rather ill thought out Right to Buy scheme and eventually found its way into the hands of private landlords.

The housing manager explained it was a strong bet that all the houses that had unkempt gardens, broken utility boxes and peeling paint were owned by private landlords and let out. The very worst cases – where there was also often the ubiquitous discarded mattress or sofa in the garden – were usually let by private landlords direct to tenants on Local Housing Allowance (Housing benefit.)

If the utility boxes were intact and the paint wasn’t peeling too much and it was just the gardens that were unkempt, the chances are the occupiers would be tenants of the council. (The council eventually fixes the fabric of the building.)

And the tidy houses with neat gardens and window boxes were usually all occupied by owner occupiers.

Now, she was not saying that ALL tenants on benefits or tenants who pay rent to the council chuck their mattresses in the garden. And not all private landlords allow their properties to deteriorate and look a mess either.

And there are plenty of owner occupiers who allow their properties to look a mess.

But I’m afraid there is a grain of truth in these generalisations – there is a large minority of landlords who just count the rent and do little else to look after the properties or make sure their tenants look after where they live.

And this is one valid reason that people have for disliking the landlord community.

Dave Spart Says…..

There are calls by some “Dave Spartists*” for Rent Controls on landlords. Well, anyone with a bit of grey hair knows that rent controls didn’t work before and won’t work now because there are so many “work arounds” – just ask anyone who ever lived in an Eastern Bloc country before the collapse of communism and they’ll fill you in on the facts. (Or, you could ask someone familiar with how Greece got in the mess it’s in today.)

Another aspect of the growth of the private rented sector is that it’s growing and anything that is flourishing tends to attract the government – who like to tax things.

Now, increasing taxes for landlords is an interesting possibility which I will explore in a forthcoming blog post.

* For the uninitiated Dave Spart is “Private Eye” magazine’s mythical Marxist Leninist polemicist

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